As a watercolour student looking to improve your skills, you understand that there is no substitute for practice. However, having the right brush can be an excellent introduction to your successful artistic journey. Choosing a watercolour brush from a catalogue or store shelf can feel like you’re shooting in the dark. After all, the only proper way to determine how well a brush works is to use it. You should not, however, enter an art store unprepared. Knowing a few things about watercolour brushes can help you make a better and more informed decision.
Understand the Art Jargon
It’s a well-known fact that premium watercolour brushes will impact your art and give an instant boost to your paintings. And, when it comes to brushes, there are some terms that you will repeatedly hear among artists.
This is the amount of water or pigment that a brush can hold. The capacity is determined by the bristle material and the size of the belly. A rigger brush with a naturally thin profile, for example, will have much less capacity than a size 10 round.
How well the brush comes to a sharp point when wet and maintains that point while in use. Many novices freak out when their expensive natural hair brush dries and splays like an old toothbrush. This is entirely normal with natural bristles, not synthetics, and will go away after a few dips in the water. If it doesn’t, it’s a sign that something isn’t right.
The amount of snap in a brush is determined by how quickly or not the bristles snap back into parallel with the handle after being bent at an angle. Some brush fibres, such as squirrel or goat, will snap very little. Some fibres, such as hog hair or Taklon, have a high content. Whether you prefer a snappy brush for watercolour depends on your painting style and preferred techniques.
The term “spring” refers to how well the brush’s belly controls itself on the page. Spring is distinct from snap-in in that a brush can have very little snap, whereas a quality brush should always have spring. Mop brushes, for example, are designed to be pulled around the page and have little snap, but they do have spring—at least the good ones do.
A lack of spring can cause a brush to splay instead of maintaining its shape or edge when it hits the surface, while too much spring can cause a brush to dump its pigment or water load constantly.
This is the rate at which the colour flows from the tip of the brush to the page. A good brush will have an even, consistent flow rate, resulting in a consistent release onto the paper. Natural hair bristles are known to be masters at this due to the cellular structure of the hair’s surface, which aids in this attribute.
The dump happens when a brush releases its entire pigment load at once. Typically, this is not a pleasant experience, resulting in blotchy paintings and extremely frustrated artists.
Consider It a Long Term Investment
Many newbies think that it’s a wise investment to start with affordable watercolour brushes and upgrade with expensive ones later on. The problem with this is that you have to paint with an inferior brush, making the first painting even more difficult. On the other hand, you’ve spent your hard-earned money on something that will only last a short time and will require you to spend even more money in the future. Consider quality over quantity when purchasing art tools, and take your time to ensure that what you are buying is right for you. However, don’t automatically assume that the most expensive materials will always be the best for your painting style.
Opt for Big Brushes
One of the most common mistakes novices make is buying too small brushes. Instead, opt for large watercolour brushes with a good point that are much more versatile and useful. It is capable of handling everything from large washes to fine details, or at the very least fine enough for everyday watercolour painting.
It’s not true that you need small brushes to paint small. Unless you’re creating extremely detailed illustrations on smooth paper, you’re unlikely to use anything smaller than a size four pointed round.
Natural vs. Synthetic Battle
Synthetic bristles are typically less expensive, often by a wide margin, and have additional benefits. Even when wet, synthetics retain their entire spring and snap, and if properly shaped, they can be superior at holding a point. However, because their fibres lack the scale layers found in natural hair, they struggle to grab and hold onto a large charge of paint, causing them to dump their pigment load onto a page. Even with the best possible care, synthetics have a finite lifespan.
On the other hand, natural bristles can be costly, but they can last a lifetime or longer with proper care. Furthermore, natural hairs have inherent characteristics that cannot be replicated. Each filament has a scale-covered outer casing as well as an interior hollow tube that allows the hair to absorb a lot of moisture while releasing it evenly and steadily.
Still, there is a wide range of differences between brands and hair types. Each hair species has a unique shingle pattern that provides unique characteristics in picking up and depositing paint, so it may take some time to find a natural hair brush that works for you. When selecting the right watercolour brush, it helps to be open-minded sometimes. If you prefer natural hair for painting, you should go for it. However, a good painter should also keep a few synthetics on hand for scrubbing, lifting, and mixing.
How to Look After Your Brushes
Brushes should never be left in paint water because they will bend the tips and cause the wooden brush handle to absorb water and swell, causing a chain reaction of damage to the handle, ferrule, and bristles. Brushes should not be cleaned with abrasive soaps. Natural hair brushes contain oils that can be removed with harsh soap, causing the bristles to dry out. The plastic tube that protects your brush when it is new is not intended for re-use; attempting to re-insert it risks bending the bristles back and damaging the brush.